Always fearful of slave revolts as the black population steadily grew, and shaken by reality in the Nat Turner massacre of women and children, Southerners logically erected anti-emancipation laws to control slave populations. The constant agitation of slave revolt by Northern abolitionist fanatics, culminating in John Brown’s 1859 crime in Virginia, was an effective means to end even voluntary emancipation in the South. Peaceful emancipation initiatives from the North would have had a better effect and avoided war.
Bernhard THuersam, www.circa1865.org
Emancipation Sentiment in 1845 South Carolina
“In 1840 there came up to the Court of Appeals the noted Carmille case. A slaveowner, Carmille, had died leaving a will which with reference to his slaves provided that they should be set free if possible . . . or conveyed in trust to certain trustees who would allow them to hire their time, paying only a nominal sum to the trustees.
This was unquestionably in conflict with the policy of the [South Carolina] statutes on the subject of emancipation. [A] court held that the will of the testator was not contrary to the principles of the act of 1820 and was not in violation of the State’s policy toward the Negro, and that the will ought to be carried out.
The decision . . . aroused the sentiment of the legislature and caused the passage of the sweeping act of 1841. The act of 1841 was intended apparently to close every avenue of approach to emancipation. These laws are always of course to be taken as a final indication of public sentiment. There was evidently a large class of persons who honestly desired to see a less severe policy pursued. Their views cannot be better expressed than in the clear and rugged style of Justice O’Neall. In 1845 he said:
“I think its policy [i.e., of the legislature against emancipation] so questionable that it ought to be repealed. A law, evaded as it is, and against which public sentiment, within and without the State, is so much arrayed, ought not to stand. It is better by far, that a wise and prudent system of emancipation, like that of 1800, should exist, rather than that unlicensed emancipation according to private arrangement should take place.
What is there in the policy of South Carolina to forbid emancipation by an owner, of a faithful, honest, good slave? Have we anything to fear from such a liberal and humane course?
Until fanaticism and folly drove us from that position of the law our State had uniformly favored emancipation by owners, of their slave property, with such limitations and guards as rendered the free Negro not a dangerous, but a useful member of the community, however humble he may be. It is time we should return to it and say to all at home and abroad, we have nothing to fear from occasional emancipation.”
(Control of Slaves in South Carolina, H.M. Henry, PhD Dissertation Vanderbilt University, 1914, pp. 173-174)